Effective Monday, December 18, 2017, the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA), a division of the United States Department of Transportation, is requiring all commercial motor carriers – trucking companies and other commercial carriers – to have Electronic Logging Devices, or ELDs, installed on vehicles to keep time logs of the drivers' time (with an exemption until December 16, 2019, for operators already using a less sophisticated method of electronic logging known as an Automatic Onboard Recording Device, or AOBRD). This mandate covers many tractor trailer vehicles as well as certain other commercial motor vehicles. These time logs, commonly referred to as Records of Duty Status, must be kept by many tractor trailer and other commercial vehicle drivers in order to show compliance with federally-mandated Hours of Service limits. Traditionally, these records were kept in paper form by each tractor trailer driver, but the new rules require that an Electronic Logging Device replace the use of traditional paper records. Georgia has also enacted new regulations that largely mirror the federal regulations and cover Georgia tractor trailer operators that do not operated in interstate commerce.
The FMCSA established Hours of Service limits in order to reduce the number of tractor trailers on the roads with drivers who may be fatigued and less capable of safely operating a commercial motor vehicle. Because of their size, weight, and speeds, a wreck involving a tractor trailer or other commercial vehicle can result in significantly more damages that an accident involving an ordinary motor vehicle. Unfortunately, they often result in serious injuries or death to innocent motorists, and fatigued drivers are a significant cause of tractor trailer accidents.
The Hours of Service rules established by the federal government vary depending on whether the commercial vehicle or tractor trailer is carrying property or passengers. For property-carrying tractor trailers, for example, a commercial driver may drive a maximum of 11 hours after 10 consecutive off-duty hours, and many not drive at all after the 14th hour after 10 consecutive off-duty hours. Thus, if a driver, following 10 off-duty hours, takes a 5-hour break after driving for 8 hours, the driver is only allowed to drive one more hour before reaching the 14-hour limit, even though the 11 hours of on-duty time has not been reached. Additional rules limit tractor trailer drivers' duty time over consecutive days, and similar regulations (with slightly different time rules) apply to passenger-carrying commercial vehicles, such as buses.
Drivers do not always keep accurate track of their Hours of Service, and the problem can be particularly acute when it comes to investigating a personal injury or wrongful death case involving a tractor trailer. Records are sometimes incomplete, or may be missing altogether, despite rules established by both Georgia and federal law requiring that records be properly maintained.
The new Electronic Logging Device rules will, hopefully, reduce the instances of “lost” records, as well as increase the accuracy of the records. Under the new FMCSA rules, the ELD must be tied to the Engine Control Module (ECM) to accurately record when the tractor trailer/commercial vehicle is in motion, reducing the likelihood of a driver falsifying records in order to drive for extended periods of time without rest. Although drivers can record a variance from the ELD-recorded data, the original data logs are retained and can be examined at a later time.
The FMCSA and United States DOT generally only govern “interstate” tractor trailers – that is, those that cross state lines. But Georgia has established its own rules that largely incorporate the federal regulations, including the new ELD rules, in the Georgia Department of Public Safety Transporation Rulebook. Therefore, to a large extent, the new requirements also apply to tractor trailers and motor carriers that operate only in Georgia, known as intrastate carriers. Georgia's rules, however, contain a number of exemptions, including exclusions from some rules that apply to log trucks and other agricultural operations. It is important, in any personal injury or wrongful death case involving a tractor trailer or motor carrier, to determine whether the vehicle was an interstate or intrastate carrier in order to determine which rules apply to the driver and company.
Not all commercial motor vehicle operators are required to keep comprehensive time logs, and some are subject to less stringent record keeping requirements. But for those who are subject to the rules, the new Electronic Logging Device rules should allow trucking companies, and the government, to keep better track of drivers' duty times and, it is hoped, increase safety to innocent motorists who could be seriously injured or killed by a tired tractor trailer driver. And in cases where an accident occurs, the electronic logs may allow injured victims to better investigate the circumstances leading to a trucking accident and help to hold trucking companies, and their drivers, accountable for their negligence.